Since the initial discovery of the lands we know as the modern United States of America, American expansionism has been distinctly imperialistic. Imperialism, by definition, is the process by which one state, with superior military strength and more advanced technology, imposes its control over the land, resources, and population of a less developed region. There has not been a time in the history of America when a group of Anglo-Americans settling in a territory did not force another group of people out.
For this reason, the way in which America and its people have expanded their territory throughout the course of history can be denoted as imperialism. From the very moment that Americans sailed from the mother country of Britain to inhabit and colonize New England, they have been encroaching on others’ lands. Not long after the first settlers arrived in America, funded charters and exploration immediately sent Americans in on what was Native American territory.
An excellent example of this is the Virginia Company of England.
Funded by James I, this group of explorers was sent to discover new territory as well as establish various types of trade and settlement. However, this exploration was not accepted without extreme backlash from the Natives that had previously claimed the land. The Powhatan Confederacy was formed, a group of Powhatan Native Americans that sought to eradicate white settlement in the Virginia area. A famous example of this group’s attempts to drive out white settlement is the Indian Massacre of 1622 in Jamestown, VA where a quarter of the white settlers of the region were killed.
Though natives made it clear that the territory belonged to them and made several attempts to protect their property, white settlement continued to push westward. A very famous manuscript, William Bradford’s “of Plimoth Plantation” shows this distinct Anglo- American imperialistic view forming as early as 1650.
Bradford states that when his group of Pilgrims finally made it to America, he was amazed to find “no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure”. He then went on to explain that “the barbarians shewed them no smale kindnes refreshing them”, but that “when they mette with them, were readier to fill their sides full of arrows than otherwise. This shows that not only did Bradford and other Pilgrims like him think the natives of the territory to be beneath them, calling them “barbarians”, they also could not see their own fault in encroaching upon Native American territory. Rather than to defend what was rightfully theirs, Bradford felt that the natives should have leant out a helping hand to the soon-to-be white oppressors. For many years after this, Europeans set out for lands of America, settling on lands that had already been claimed by the natives as settlers had superior strength in technology, such as guns and other weaponry.
Because of this slow and steady encroachment by European settlers, American expansionism can be delined to its very core as being driven by imperialism.After the United States came to be known as its own independent country, his imperialistic approach to encroaching on Native American land later came to be known famously as “manifest destiny”. The term manifest destiny was coined by a man named John O’Sullivan in 1845, “to signify the mission of the United States to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions”. However, few acknowledged that this land had already been claimed by its native inhabitants. Stephenson claims that “for Europeans, land not occupied by recognized members of Christendom was the theoretically land free to be taken” and that “God had given Anglo-Saxon civilization in general and the United States, in particular, a command: Christianize and civilize the world or face divine retribution”, 19″ century America was driven aggressively by the idea of westward expansion because of these ideals. This is shown in part by the “ideology of Jacksonianism: opportunity and expansion for everyone” .
Ot course, everyone, in this circumstance, meant free white men exclusively. One of the strongest examples of imperialism in the entire history of the United States is Jackson’s Indian Removal Act passed in 1830. This act forcefully pushed Indians of the “five civilized tribes” and other various tribes west of the Mississippi River so that white settlement in their native territory would receive no further opposition. Any tribe that resisted their removal, under this act, would receive military intervention. This massive removal of Indians led to the infamous “Trail of Tears”-a march of Native Americans westward during which around 4000 died. Not long after this huge seizure of land, America began to seek out the annexation of vast plots of Mexican territory under the presidency of James K. Polk-a strong believer in Jackson’s ideas on territorial acquisition. “Southerm slaveholders, enticed by cheap land, poured into Mexican Texas in the 1820’s and 1830’S”, and “by 1828, it was apparent to Mexican officials that these settlers were a problem”.
This Anglo-American immigration to what then was known as The Republic of Texas quickly set up their own Congress, electing Stephen E. Austin, later known as “the father of lexas as their Secretary of State. This group negotiated the right to settle ‘Texas with the Mexican government shortly after Mexico was granted independence from Spain. However, further American settlement in lexas was soon outlawed, leading up to what became the lexas Revolution, in which Americans outnumbered Mexicans by a vast majority and won ‘independence from Mexico and acquired the land now known as Texas. In 1845, Texas was taken into the United States as a full-fledged slave state, leading many to believe that “territorial gains were no longer a fulfillment of God’s promise but chiefly an evil extension of slavery”. No matter the reason used for the American acquisition of Texas, this time period was undoubtedly driven by a definite sense of imperialism.
America sought to drive out other nationalities and peoples, using its superior power for the sake of imposing its control on the land, resources and population of an area. The 1850’s also brought in a huge push for American expansion. The Young American movement depicts this perfectly. This cultural attitude pushed for free trade and expansion southward. This southward expansion, of course, stuck to the American trend of being deeply imperialistic. One of the greatest and most obvious examples of American imperialism is the 1854 Ostend Manifesto. This document, written by well-known expansionist Pierre Soulé, calls for the purchase of Cuba from Spain, stating that if Cuba was not sold willingly, the United States would have the right to take it by means of warfare, claiming there to be no other way to go about such a situation. Soulé compares this circumstance to that of justifying “an individual tearing down the burning house of his neighbor if there are no other means of preventing the flames from destroying his own home” .
This justification worked naught and Amenicans were appalled at such a bold-laced example ot imperialism. Ihough there was great and immediate backlash to this proclamation, it showed quite plainly what America had come to be: an imperialistic powerhouse that sought out any teritory it could presumably acquire by force. This period of time was also dominated by independent filibusters who set out on personal missions to acquire plots of territory for the United States. One of the most famous examples of this is lawyer William Walker who led several private military expeditions to parts of Latin America in an attempt to place these regions under his control. Walker was mildly successful in these expeditions, becoming the president of Nicaragua for a brief period in 1856. However, he was quickly overmuled and kicked out of the nation, having to return to the United States where he was put on trial for impeding on neutrality laws.
When his unrest with the U.S. government was settled, Walker set south in another attempt to capture territory. However, this time, he was caught and executed in an attempt to invade Honduras. Though Walker’s expeditions can be deemed unsuccessful, it showed the growing American ideology at the time that land was theirs for the taking. Walker may have not acted as a representative of the American government, but his smaller-scaled regimes depicted the imperialistic views of his nation perfectly: all land in which America seeks to claim and can through superior military or technological torce is theirs for the taking. Manifest destiny has long since been fulfilled but America still shows definite signs of imperialism.
Even in the present-day war with the middle-east, America has overtaken lands by “right” of warfare, taking what it wishes, that usually being natural gasses. Though these regions have not been legally claimed, as is typical imperial fashion, by the United States, the U.S. has still seized nearly total control of many of these areas. This distinctly shows that imperialism and imperialistic ideals are still alive in modern day America. Throughout all of history, with examples such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830 or the Ostend Manifesto of 1854, it is plain to see that American history or expansionism can be accurately described as having been driven by imperialism. This is because throughout history, the United States, with its superior military and technological strength, has many times imposed its control over the land, resources and population of a less developed region.